Frustrated educators from troubled Simi Valley-based California Virtual Academies (CAVA) – California’s largest online charter school – delivered a report card with straight F grades at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. of shareholders of K12 Inc., which profits from the management services and school materials it provides to CAVA. (#CTA, #CaliforniaTeachersAssociation, #Siliconeer, @Siliconeer, #Youth, #Education, #CAVA, #K12INC, #StanfordUniversity, #UniversityofWashington)
Concerned CAVA teachers like Jason Spadaro of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who traveled to the event outside a law office on 11th Street in Washington, D.C., have been calling for improvements at their 15,000-student statewide school for years.
“CAVA and K12 are out of touch with the problems online teachers are facing at our school. I decided to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak directly to K12 about the poor and shortsighted leadership and lack of accountability contributing to these problems,” said Spadaro, who teaches 11th-grade U.S. history. “Just like public school employees, CAVA and K12 need to be held accountable for our school’s performance. As long as K12’s revenues come from public tax dollars, they owe it to taxpayers and students to account for the job they have done.”
In March 2015, CAVA teachers shared their experiences in an in-depth study of CAVA released by the “In the Public Interest” group that called for better oversight of the school. In June they filed complaints with school districts that authorized CAVA charters throughout California in an effort to protect students. Recently, new research from Stanford University and the University of Washington came out reinforcing many of the concerns CAVA teachers have voiced.
And according to recent press reports, the California Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation of Virginia-based K12 Inc., a for-profit education company that is part of a probe of the nation’s virtual charter industry. Also, the National Education Policy Center in Colorado concludes in a separate new national study of charter operators in general that current state policies “promote privatization and profiteering.”
“There are a lot of students for whom the traditional brick and mortar school is just not appropriate, and an online virtual education provides an alternative that allows them to succeed,” said Mark Holtebeck of Hayward, Calif., a high school special education teacher who attended the D.C. event. “However, CAVA and K12 are damaging our students’ education. They treat educators as disposable commodities, and they are cheapening our work by profiting off the public trust. We need this to change, and that’s why I came here.”
Holtebeck and his 750 colleagues at the statewide CAVA school are trying to get to the bargaining table in California to improve conditions for students and teachers. They are seeking a stronger voice in improving working conditions and student learning. The California Public Employment Relations Board’s historic recent decision declaring the California Teachers Association as the exclusive bargaining agent comes at a critical time and promises to provide momentum for the teachers’ ongoing efforts to make their online school more responsive to the needs of their students.
California state officials are calling on CAVA and K12 to honor the ruling and start negotiating, instead of appealing the verdict. “Teachers and the students and families they serve have waited a long time to enter into this important collective bargaining process which they believe will lead to better communications and better conditions for learning to take place,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wrote in a letter to CAVA management.
Toni G. Atkins, Speaker of the California Assembly, made similar requests in her letter to Nate Davis, the CEO of K12, Inc. “I ask you to consider the high cost of continued delays and to work together with teachers to improve workplace conditions and the quality of education received by CAVA’s nearly 15,000 California students,” Atkins wrote.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the 3 million-member National Education Association, praised the CAVA educators who spoke out. “CAVA students face serious problems that must be fixed. The stakes for children are high, and CAVA educators have come to D.C. to make sure K12 Inc. hears their concerns. These dedicated California educators refuse to stand by while their students receive an inadequate education. We support their courageous efforts and believe it is critical that CAVA and K12 Inc. work with educators to make desperately needed changes.”
CTA President Eric Heins noted that CAVA educators have endured intimidation and worse for trying to improve student learning conditions. “These teachers must be heard. They’re simply addressing the problems that are hurting their students, such as insufficient time spent on instruction, high teacher turnover, and too much public money going out of state.”
“I was motivated to participate in this event in Washington, D.C. because CAVA and K12 are failing students,” said Kelly Walters, a CAVA high school math teacher from Anguanga in Riverside County. “To cut costs, more and more clerical duties are being piled on teachers, keeping us from working with our students to make sure they have the quality education they deserve. CAVA administration and K12 need to stop creating barriers for teachers and invest in both frontline educators and support staff so teachers can do the jobs we were hired to do with the tools we need to succeed.”